Each Friday, Andy Benoit will take a quick look at every NFL game to be played over the weekend. Here’s his Week 2 Weekend Preview.
Panthers at Falcons
The Falcons struggled with a dominant Eagles defensive line last Thursday. Now they face an almost equally formidable one in the Panthers, who stymied the Cowboys last week. Defensive tackle Kawann Short will be a handful for new right guard Brandon Fusco. And off the right edge, Mario Addison’s long arms and crafty technique pose problems for left tackle Jake Matthews, who is athletic but doesn’t always play with a strong anchor.
Colts at Redskins
Acclaimed rookie left guard Quenton Nelson is coming off an up-and-down NFL debut. The ups: Nelson showed recovery ability on his third and fourth steps, the strength to plaster his blocks to defenders and an aggressive finisher mentality. The downs: He struggled against certain power and leverage moves. It’s worth noting, he was often facing maybe football’s best power-and-leverage defensive tackle, Geno Atkins. This week he’ll see a rotation of guys, including young Alabama products Da’Ron Payne and Jonathan Allen.
Chiefs at Steelers
James Conner rushed for 135 yards last week, but the Steelers—perhaps in response to the inclement Cleveland weather—took a peewee approach and featured mostly just straight handoffs out of heavy personnel. Conner has been productive running out of three-receiver sets. That’s what the Steelers need to do Sunday. Kansas City’s defense has struggled in recent years, especially against Pittsburgh, at stopping the run out of nickel and dime packages. New Steelers offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner should do all he can to coax the Chiefs into playing their 4-2 nickel. And the Chiefs should consider eschewing that 4-2 front for a 5-1, which would prevent the Steelers O-line from getting into its commanding double-team run block.
Texans at Titans
The Titans must brace for the same old J.J. Watt on Sunday. It’s difficult to tailor your gameplan for Watt because he aligns all over. Against New England, he had snaps at 3-technique, 4-technique, 6-technique and 9-technique, where he got to Tom Brady several times in the second half.
Browns at Saints
Everyone spent the week asking what happened to the Saints defense. The short answer: it played a lot of man coverage against the Bucs, and corners Marshon Lattimore and Ken Crawley lost to Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson, while Ryan Fitzpatrick capitalized with decisive throws. The Saints won’t see such assertiveness from Tyrod Taylor, who never makes a throw without thoroughly inspecting its availability. As long as the Saints, who were also hurt by Fitzpatrick’s legs a few times, have eyes on Taylor to handle his scrambling, they should be fine Sunday.
Eagles at Buccaneers
The Bucs have a deep passing game and the Eagles are uniquely aggressive out of their base coverages, with corners playing tight and safeties playing low. Something has to give. A deep passing game demands you keep your running back and tight end in as help-blockers. That’s especially important against a D-line like Philly’s. Look for the Bucs to go with max protection, and for Mike Evans to often line up on the right side, across from Jalen Mills, who has blossomed into a quality corner but remains susceptible to double-moves.
Dolphins at Jets
A small gripe from New York’s thumping of Detroit last Monday night: Top receiver Robby Anderson was targeted just once. And that play—a 41-yard touchdown—perfectly illustrated why Anderson must be targeted more. He used his speed to immediately threaten a Cover 2 safety and then tracked the ball to make a contested catch. He did this a lot in 2017, too. Anderson might look like a slender speed receiver, but he’s a complete weapon, especially on vertical routes from just outside the red zone.
Chargers at Bills
With rookie QB Josh Allen starting behind the league’s worst interior O-line and with one of its worst receiving corps, Buffalo’s D must hold the Chargers to under 20 to have any chance. It’s important they be ready for running back Melvin Gordon outside. Last week 12 of Gordon’s 24 touches, and 76 of his 166 total yards, came on the perimeter, where he can best showcase his swift long strides and much-improved balance.
Vikings at Packers
Few defenses are better than Minnesota at creating overloaded pressure to one side. The Vikings pick their spots sparingly but effectively. Last week against San Francisco, they overload-blitzed just twice. One resulted in a Harrison Smith sack, the other in a Mike Hughes pick-six. This Sunday, expect the Vikings to show overloaded pressure but drop out at the snap, keeping seven men in coverage. That’s a great way to make a gimpy Aaron Rodgers hesitate and hold the ball, or make a callow Deshone Kizer take the type of risks that resulted in his league-leading 22 interceptions last year.
Lions at 49ers
The Lions won’t fulfill Gary Gramling’s NFC Championship Game prediction if their running game doesn’t get better. They’re facing a Niners defense that allowed just 82 yards on 27 carries to Vikings tailbacks last week. One reason was third-round rookie linebacker Fred Warner, who flashed as a quick gap-filler.
Cardinals at Rams
You won’t find more equally matched stars in the trenches than Rams left tackle Andrew Whitworth and Cardinals defensive end Chandler Jones. Both are patient long-armed technicians who allow their teams a lot of schematic options.
Patriots at Jaguars
Safety Patrick Chung, of all people, could decide this game. The Jaguars love to close their formations, meaning that on one side, the widest aligned guy is a line of scrimmage tight end. This forces the defense into an easy-to-read look and sets up safer either/or throws for Blake Bortles. And against the Giants, Jacksonville found creative ways to run the ball here. As New England’s hybrid safety-linebacker, Chung is typically the primary defender against these closed edges.
Raiders at Broncos
When Derek Carr gets uncomfortable, he tends to speed up mentally. This leads to the type of overzealous check-downs and poor, hasty throws that marred his Week 1 performance. It’s imperative Jon Gruden call plays that put Carr in a groove. Moving the pocket would be a good start. That keeps the ball in Carr’s hand and presents more instinctive, less mechanical throws. It also minimizes Von Miller, who can’t crumble a pocket that immediately starts moving away from him.
Giants at Cowboys
Schematically, the Giants offense looked good against Jacksonville. New head coach Pat Shurmur created downfield opportunities for Odell Beckham by putting him in different slot positions and route combinations. Unfortunately, it often didn’t matter because the Giants O-line didn’t hold up in pass protection. They’re not the first O-line to struggle against the Jags. We’ll get a better gauge of this Giants front five Sunday night against a good-but-not-quite-great Cowboys D-line.
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